Hope everyone in the states had a good holiday, and everyone is having a good summer overall. We wanted to give an update on what to expect for Xen.
Thank you so much to everyone that played the technical beta and reported bugs! It was extremely positive and motivating for us. We have already fixed a large number of the issues reported, including some we never would have found on our own. The amount of quality feedback from our community has prompted us to update our release plans.
On August 1st we will roll out the complete Xen AND Gonarch's Lair chapters to public beta. Soon after (think weeks, not months), we will release the concluding chapters, Interloper, Nihilanth, and Endgame to public beta:
The same rules apply as before: If you want to be a part of cutting edge testing and don't mind helping us squash some bugs, this beta is for you! Otherwise, we suggest you hold out a little longer.
We think this staggered release will allow us to more thoroughly test all components of this massive game, and catch bugs faster. Once we can ensure a smooth launch, we'll push the whole Xen campaign out of beta for everyone to enjoy.
Thanks again for the feedback and comments. We will be back shortly with an update showing off some new stuff!
We are still on sale for 60% off until July 9th. As far as we know, this will be the last major sale before the release of Xen, so now is a great time to grab it for yourself or a friend!
We are excited to release our tech beta! It’s the first 3 maps of the Xen chapter (which has 6 maps total), continuing Gordon’s adventure from the cliffhanger ending of Lambda Core. With the full Xen campaign clocking in at 19 maps, the beta is only a taste of what’s to come.
The purpose of this beta is to collect bugs and feedback on a range of different computers. We have made significant improvements and changes to the Source engine, and we want the game to run as smoothly as possible. If you want to be on the bleeding edge of testing, opt into this beta. If you want the polished, complete Xen experience, you should wait. It won’t be long!
How to Opt In
First right click “Black Mesa” in your game library. Go to Properties…
Then click the “BETAS” tab and select “public-beta” from the drop down...
It will download a bunch of stuff, then you will have access to the Xen levels for the beta!
If you have not unlocked all the chapters, you will need to enable the developer console and unlock them. Go to Options, Keyboard, Advanced, Enable Developer Console. Bring up the console and type “sv_unlockedchapters 19”.
From there, simply click “New Game”, then scroll over to the “Xen” chapter (the chapter images were intentionally left black).
The beta drops you in just after Lambda Core. A big part of the last fight in LC is teaching the player how to use the long jump. If you jump straight into Xen, remember the long jump is triggered by pressing the jump button (space) twice rapidly in ANY direction. You can then use the W, A, S, D to control Gordon in the air.
We are looking for specific graphical/technical/performance bugs, especially on lower end systems. If you have any issues, please report them on our Steam forums or on the “Xen-Bugs” Discord channel. Please include your graphics settings and system specs or we won’t be able to properly diagnose the problem.
Though our focus is performance, we are also interested in what was clear, and what wasn’t for the layout and design. If you got stuck somewhere or were confused by something, let us know.
Please unsubscribe from all workshop mods if you are testing!
Our Discord is live! Please join us, hang out, and chat. Make sure to check out the server rules. The TL:DR;, it’s a SAFE FOR WORK server about Black Mesa, Half-Life, and Games. Please keep discussions outside those categories to other servers and have fun!
PLEASE NOTE, we have heavy server restrictions at this time. We will dial it back as soon as possible.
Known Issues With the Beta
-Linux has not yet been built. Windows only.
-We have not tested all of Earthbound or Multiplayer for this beta. If you find issues, feel free to report them in the proper channels.
-Running the game at 4k resolution at max settings may drastically lower your frame rate
-Ragdolls freak out in water. If you shoot an Ichthyosaur or Hoteye in water, their body and gibs may freak out. This is fixed on the developer build.
-Plant lights don’t retract when you are near them. This is fixed on the developer build.
-Laptop screens show shadows that are behind the screen. Fixed on the developer build.
-Missing collision on some of the plants and roots in the swamp
-Cookie lights (lights that cast on the ground) are broken on the HEV battery. Fixed on the developer build.
-Players occasionally gets stuck on small healing pools
-Probably a few things we are forgetting. Feel free to report any bugs and we’ll add them to our tracker!
We have a couple things planned for later this month, but we wanted to give everyone a mini update, so no one thought we had disappeared for the summer. Here are just a few of the improvements/fixes we have been working on alongside Xen.
Fixed Rocket Launcher Guidance
One of the biggest issues we had in all of Black Mesa was the rocket launcher. It would track strangely, and made fights with helicopters harder than they needed to be. This was super apparent when we started locking down the Gonarch fights. We rebuilt the RPG tracking and re-added the cross-hair elements to give players better feedback for when it was in guidance mode.
Added Stumble Animations to Zombies
This is a great feature in the Half-Life episodes. It adds a layer of immersion and strategy, so we implemented it into Black Mesa.
Like the stumble animations above, this is a small change that really helps the overall feel of the game. We increased the size of tracers fired by the player, and fixed a bug that blocked them from being fired by HECU and other NPCs.
That’s all for right now. We’ll be back later in June. Thanks!
Hello from the Black Mesa team! We have been GRINDING on this Xen thing, so let’s get right into where we are at:
Xen - Final Art/Polish
We are driving though each of the six maps, capping off the final tasks, and doing little bits of housekeeping to make the levels shine. We are also taking a hard look at the performance of each level to make sure the game runs as smooth as possible on the myriad of machines out there. Thus far, we have made significant progress with deep engine optimisations, as well as several sweeping game-wide asset optimisation passes. We are also looking into other engine fixes, such as batch rendering for props and displacements to further increase performance.
Gonarch - Final Art/Polish
We now have Gonarch arted and lit, with all the technical effects and animations implemented. All that’s left is to polish the animations and effects, and to make sure the player clipping is smooth throughout (as well as some water features). We are really proud of the many encounters, interactions, and fights with Gonarch throughout the chapter, and can’t wait to see how they play out there in the wild.
Show ‘em, Giphy...
Interloper - Design Lock/Art
We’re design locking the chapter while also building out the art and lighting. In order to get the art completed in record time, both the artists and level designers are creating placeholder assets so that we can detail the play space, then simply drop in the final art by overwriting the placeholders. We want to keep Interloper mostly under wraps, and the parts we do want to show off aren't quite ready for the spotlight. So instead, here is some art to give everyone a hint of what is in store for Interloper:
Old Concept for Interloper Exteriors By Eddie Hinestroza
Interloper Materials By Mark Foreman
Console Models Built with Modularity in Mind By Robert Chinner
This is how we plan to release in the coming months:
Technical Beta - This will be a couple of maps to test the latest engine, and test the performance of our maps. This will be public, but more or less of a stealth release for people who are interested in helping us test. This way we can test on a lot of machines quickly, and have time to implement any crucial feedback.
Open Beta - After we have implemented the feedback from the technical test, we will push the entire game to open beta. This will give us testing for the rest of the levels to again make sure the game releases as smooth as possible.
Release - Though we are expecting all the betas to run well, if you have been waiting for the full Black Mesa experience, this is what you want to wait for. Once we know the beta does not set people’s machines on fire, we will switch the full game over to the main Steam branch and announce its full release! After this, we will continue to monitor feedback and ideas from the community for Xen, and release periodic bug fixes and updates.
In addition to these staggered releases, we plan on launching a public discord to work in conjunction with our Steam forums. This will be a great place to chat, report bugs, and get mini updates from the team. We are not sure when we will be launching this, but it will probably be with one of the betas. This is one of the ways we hope to engage a bit more with the community, and provide more regular updates and interactions.
Apologies for the silence over the last few months. We have been really diving into our work. Every once in a while we poke our heads up to see how far we have come, and how close we are to finishing this massive undertaking. We have more planned updates and fun stuff to show off on the way to the borderworld! Thanks!
We are really happy with the progress we made this month. We wanted to show some of it off and keep the information flowing while we wrap up the last 5 chapters.
Gonarch Our biggest effort went into getting the entirety of the Gonarch chapter arted. Now it is in the hands of our animators, who will take the artists hard work and destroy it!
Displacement/Sculpted/Arted - By Matt Young
Cinematic Physics - By Russ Briggeman
Nihilanth No pretty pictures for this one, but we would be remiss if we didn’t mention we have made huge strides with the end boss of Xen. Our lead programmer Chetan Jaggi and lead animator Nate Ayres have worked together to build out an entire feature set of attacks, defenses, AI, as well as effects for the Nihilanth. Now we’re balancing all these features and building the planned finale. I’d normally say “more to come” but we probably won’t have any more updates on this last fight as we want to keep it a surprise for everyone.
Before and After In October we revisited some of our released media and posted some #Blocktober dev diaries. Here is the comparison of how far these shots have come since when we first posted them (You can open the image in a new tab for better viewing). Full disclosure: I did some light Photoshop work to make them read better at size and because our sun effect is just a bit too hot in its current form.
We really enjoyed putting together the #Blocktober posts, and want to do more write ups like it in the future.
Again, hope the new year started off great for everyone! We’ll be back with more updates before launch.
Hope everyone enjoyed last months trailer. Here are some additional updates and features we have added for the upcoming Xen release.
Screenspace Fog ("Xog")
Using the GBuffer that we've developed for our new Dynamic Lights, we've added a dynamic, very flexible new fog system that replaces Source's legacy fog. The new "Xog" can be configured on the fly with instant results ingame, it can change over time with I/O, and it can vary in density and color based on height. Best of all, it's very inexpensive to render, costing about as much performance as a single dynamic light.
Our level designers were slack-jawed when they saw how much it improves the look of the whole game, bringing a true sense of scale to the levels.
New Alien Grunt NPC (Agrunts)
Our original Alien Grunts were tank enemies that shot ridiculously powerful homing bees. They fit relatively well into the tough, cover-laden final levels of Earth. In the vast, wide open spaces of Xen however, they became extremely frustrating to fight.
The new Agrunt is the most mobile, unpredictable enemy in the whole game besides our assassins. They'll leap onto different platforms, find a way to outflank you, get in your face, and unleash a devastating secondary "hornet hurricane" attack. As a much-needed balance, the bees from them no longer home in on you, and individual bee damage has been lowered.
The player only encounters Controllers once in the released game. They were a good, if a bit simple, final enemy type for the Earth bound levels. For Xen, we drastically expanded their abilities, turning them into a kind of overlord or mini-boss. We don't want to spoil everything about their new abilities -- but mind-control, telekinesis, and crystal-powered shields are just a taste of what players can expect.
Improved Vortigaunt NPC (Xorts)
These were another straightforward enemy from Earth-levels. We mostly teleported them straight onto the player and expected them to be gunned down in a few seconds. For Xen, we have worked them into a much more intelligent, emotional creature. In keeping with the original Xen, they won't be hostile to the player by default.
Flashlight shadows are back! Last patch we switched to one of our new dynamic lights, but couldn’t quite solve all the issues with shadows. For Xen, the flashlight will be positioned on the player to look like it is casting from lower on your chest. This creates interesting shadows and adds to the atmosphere in dark environments while still having a usable flashlight.
Better late than never. This is a feature that's been in other Valve games, but for some reason has been broken in Black Mesa, even from our very first mod release. No more hard-edged particle clipping!
(Notice the hard edges in the first image below)
Running With Objects
Anyone that's tried to get the secret purple hat through Surface Tension has already begged us to enable running while holding objects. Turns out we need this for certain Xen sequences, so wish granted!
In addition to the improvements above, we have been grinding away at locking the final bits of design and arting for all our Xen levels.
While building momentum toward release, our goal is to lock down the chapters in order so that we don’t have to dedicate resources to them, and so all the subsequent chapters go faster and smoother. Here is where we are at:
Xen (~2-3 Hour Estimate) This chapter is completely design locked, most of the art is done, and we are polishing the levels to be release ready. Left on the to-do list is merging art, polishing art, unifying skyboxes and effects across all 6 maps, optimizing maps, and finally a clipping pass.
Gonarch (~1-2 Hour Estimate) These maps are design locked and are going through the art process. The goal is to be mostly art completed, and start in on its many animated scripted sequences in January. We learned a lot arting Xen and refined our pipeline to be more efficient going forward. There are also half the maps (3) in Gonarch as in Xen, so we got that going for us.
Interloper (~2-3 Hour Estimate) This chapter is design complete, but needs refinement to lock the chapter. The goal is to have this chapter design locked in the next few days so that level designers and artists can start in on detailing it. Interloper is currently 6 maps.
Nihilanth (Super Secret Time Estimate) We have started in on the core gameplay coding of the final boss. We wanted to avoid having the big boss be just a bullet sponge, so we have kept the design fluid and kept the environment interactive and dynamic. Most of the static art for this level is completed, but it still needs scripted animation set pieces.
Endgame (About 5 mins) Endgame is locked, but needs some final animation and graphics updates. Endgame will be the last chapter we do a pass on, as it is dependant on a lot of final art from the other levels. Even in its current state we are very happy with how it plays out.
We assume most of the people reading this have already pulled the trigger on buying the game (thank you), but we do have to mention that we are 60% off for the Steam Winter Sale! Black Mesa makes a great gift for friends and family. This will be one of the last sales before we ship Xen!
Thanks for reading— we plan on having a small news update and dev blog in January. Have a great holiday!
Happy Birthday Half-Life! We’d like to thank Valve for creating this masterpiece; an important part of gaming history. Nobody on this team would be where they are today if it weren’t for this amazing, inspirational game. We are lucky to share in a tiny bit of their legacy.
The Xen Trailer
“The Specimen will be delivered to you in a few (months)”
To Celebrate Half-Life’s 20th Anniversary, we have something special to share. Our first trailer for Xen! Be sure to go full screen and crank it up to 11!
https://youtu.be/TAIJich73NY James McVinnie has once again done an amazing job with presenting our game. Everything in the trailer was captured in-game, and we hope to polish and improve our visuals as we get the entirety of Xen up to our standards.
“Morning, Mr. Freeman. Looks like you’re running late.”
Our goal is to release Xen on Steam in Q2 2019. This will allow us to finish Xen to a place where the entire product is stable, smooth, and most importantly...fun! We are already happy with the design state of Xen as it stands currently: almost everything is design locked and functioning as intended. We are going to be using the remaining time between now and launch to bring it up to our art and polish standards.
Playtests show that all of Xen will take roughly 6 hours to complete; longer for those who like to explore. The levels and design for Xen are largely original work (with cues taken from Half-Life), rather than just simply a remake of Xen.
We are extremely proud of what we have created, and will be showing off some of our deep graphics and NPC changes later in December, as well as a breakdown of where each of the chapters stand.
As always, thank you to our incredible community. The positivity and support is what keeps this team going. I got to go the Retro Game Con here in Syracuse, New York, and it was amazing to meet people who have stuck by our game since the mod days. I really cannot express how it made me feel to have people come up to our table and thank us for our work, and encourage us to keep going. Retro Game Con was a great reminder of just how supportive and positive our community is. Let’s keep that going, not just on Steam or the internet, but everywhere!
Again… a huge thank you to all our fans who have stuck by us through all these years.
Xen WILL be out in 2019, Half-Life will turn 21, and we can finally buy it that beer we owed it.
For our last installment of #Blocktober, we thought we would tease something we’ve not shown yet (aside from a small tease in a dev blog post a long time ago). The Xenian swamp!
There is a lot of lore around Half-Life’s development cycle that talks about the larger plans, cut levels, and more planned locations for Xen. Due to time or technical reasons, many of these ideas never made the final cut. One of these was the idea of the Xenian swamp. The area was actually briefly seen during Half-Life’s resonance cascade scene, but was never revisited beyond that, though it is quite likely that Valve originally intended for you to end up back there at some point during the Xen chapter.
We wanted to bring this back in our version. Our Xen is all about realised potential. We thought it was a really cool touch to get a tantalising glimpse of the unique and interesting alien environment at the start of the game and then actually get to explore it much later, near the end of the game.
The original layout of the swamp was made by Xen Lead Chris Horn, and was intended to follow a river upstream across several branching paths, each leading to different encounters and gameplay areas. Quite a lot of our ideas and designs for Xen were originally more non-linear in nature, as an attempt to change things up from the linearity of the Earthbound sections. This was something which would later adjust, as we became more accustomed to Xen’s design and core ideas, and figured out what worked and didn’t work.
This was the initial blockout with some rough prop placement and with the major gameplay elements from the plan blocked out. This map was meant to be sprawling and winding; feeling like a confusing alien environment. As you reached the map’s conclusion at the top of the river, you would get to higher ground, and be able to look back across the maze you just navigated.
Revision, Revision, Revision
This map went through a large amount of revisions. The early versions didn’t play particularly well. It was far too easy to get lost and difficult to keep track of your progression and location, and we also found that lots of memorable gameplay sections and encounters were being missed. Things weren’t framed well in general because players could approach from multiple areas, and it was all too much to manage for players and designers alike.
This led into the map’s first major rework, similar to how the first map of Xen had been totally reworked (you can see details in our previous #Blocktober post). In fact, this was done by the same mapper! The first key idea which helped bring the map forward was to make it feel more “Xen” and less terrestrial by breaking the map up into several floating islands, which had somewhat collided together: thus allowing the river to flow across them. The idea was that this would help players track their progression better by allowing them to mentally “tick off” sections of the map as they got through it. This helped a lot, but didn’t solve all the problems.
Across many, many revisions, the valley/canyon maze following the river eventually gave way to a more interesting and complex path and cave puzzle, that further gave way to something even more ambitious, which we won’t spoil. Over time, the map became more linear, directed, and focussed, which benefitted it hugely. Due to its enormous complexity and size, the map also eventually turned into 2 maps! While a lot of the core ideas were maintained and developed from the original blockout, the overall look and shape became unrecognisable.
This map’s design and what we learned from it is something we really want to talk more about in detail after Xen has shipped. The multiple loops of iteration and feedback took this map from one of our most troubled, to one that we are most proud of. This was probably the toughest map to develop in the “Xen” chapter. It was a lot of work, and the lessons were hard, but we hope you’ll think it was worth the effort once you get to play it. We sure do!
Finally, here is an aerial shot of the same map, in its current state, matching the shot from the earlier blockout images. The shot below illustrates the top left quadrant from the earlier blockout image.
Now is also a good time to mention Black Mesa is on sale for Halloween! Until November 1st we are 60% off!
We continue #Blocktober with another section we’ve shown off previously, the Xen cave. This part shows up after last week’s arch island, and exists in the same “badlands” biome. The goal was to call back to the original Half-Life, where water and life collected more on the interior of the Xenian land formations.
The initial concept by Xen Lead Chris Horn was to have a bridge, built by the scientists in order to cross the dangerous water. The bridge would mysteriously have a section missing and the player would need to long jump the gap in order to proceed.
We planned on having islands throughout the cave that the player could explore optionally. This would create a risk vs reward scenario as the player would have to jump over water that MAY (OR MAY NOT) contain Ichthyosaurs.
An initial subdivide of the blockout geometry with sculpt changes to help shape the cave’s look.
After we added the bridge from the initial concept, we ultimately decided that while it may have looked cool, it lead to the whole cave section being a simple straight shot which provided minimal gameplay. There was little chance that the player would fall into the water and it didn’t encourage exploration, due to how direct the player path was.
From there, we changed the plan. Working as much as possible with our existing geometry, we forced the player to long jump between platforms, added more obvious resources for the player to find through exploration, and made the path to the exit much more indirect. This lets the player take in more of the environment and makes them feel like they are progressing through a challenging environment, instead of simply following a line.
This was a paint over of the existing environment by Project Lead Adam Engels, designed to help convey the intended new look and feel. The Level Designers did a great job of building new gameplay out of the shape we had already created. A great example of “creativity through constraint”.
Things start to come together here with better lighting, some stalactite placement, and underwater foliage props.
Throughout the process, we iterated on the shape of the cave to feel more natural and support gameplay. You can see in the image below (brightened for visual clarity) that we lowered the ceiling and the height of the outcroppings on the left and right of the player’s view.
By identifying problems and addressing them in iterative passes, we were able to utilize more of the environment, improve/maximise gameplay, and still keep optional risk vs reward sections in the playspace. This is a design process that we have followed throughout the entirety of Xen.
After these revisions, we handed the scene to Level Designer/Artist Spencer Rose to push it up to the quality of something that was worthy of a public screen shot. He further sculpted the displacements, propagated the cave with assets made by the art team, and used lighting to guide the player through the scene; for instance, making the hole in the ceiling stand out with lighting and volumetric rays (which subliminaly point to the cave exit). He also tweaked the water to look more “alien” and unique. The new water added some much needed contrast to the environment.
We hope this was an insightful peek into our design process. More to come for #Blocktober!
We will put out some tasty updates soon, but FIRST it is #Blocktober! We wanted to not only post images, but also show how our maps have progressed and evolved.
Xen A - The Badlands
For the first map of Xen, we wanted to capture the desolate feeling of the original HL1 map, while putting our own spin on it. In the original, the desolation of the outer islands gave way to more life as you accessed the interior of the level, which was a theme we expanded on across multiple maps. Our version of the badlands is rocky, with patches of water and arid plants, but no soil for true, vibrant Xenian life to grow. This is the first of the multiple biomes that players will progress through in the Xen chapter.
First Blockout - Houndeye Arch Island
This was the first version of the Houndeye Arch Island, following our original and detailed plans for Xen’s first map. This was built directly off the paper plan. This first version was extremely basic in scale and style, and although it captured the core ideas, we would not truly understand some of the underlying flaws in its construction until we progressed further down the art pipeline.
First Blockout and Art Experimentation
We began to experiment with textures and artstyle, using the early version of this island as a base. We originally went for something colored similarly to the original Xen, except utilizing a dark base rock to bring about the feel of a desolate wasteland. We took a more realistic approach to the skybox, using brightly colored nebulae to remind the player of the original Xen feel, but attempted to keep it more grounded in reality. The environmental light source was a giant black hole in the sky, which we eventually deemed too distracting.
Here you can see the art continuing to evolve as we sculpted the island a bit more and started utilizing some new props and textures. The arch prop was amazing, but we felt like it did not fit the way the island had been built. And this led to...
It was at this point we identified some of the fundamental issues with the way the map had been constructed. It was not hitting the correct notes for scale or for player guidance. One of our mappers did a significant rework of the entire map, rebuilding every island from scratch, aiming for a far better sense of grand scale. For the screenshot, focus on how the surrounding landscape frames the arch in a better way:
Second Blockout and Art Experimentation
It was with this second revision that we continued to build the map’s art style. The “green” Xenian feel from the original was moved to a later map, to represent a more lush Xenian biome.
We went with giving the Badlands a purple feel. The screenshot shows how we changed to more of a galaxy cloud style skybox, heavily inspired by Homeworld. We made progress on the lighting and the “feeling” of the level. We trimmed the island down, and made the arch feel like a gateway to the rest of the map, to guide the player and frame the next section.
“Final” Art Pass
Lastly, there is the more completed level, which we have shown off previously. We completely rebooted the skybox, based the level lighting off of it, and did a proper rock and small foliage pass. We went for lighter base textures for the rock to better play with the light colors and feel. Even this shot, which we considered final art for the game, has seen a number of improvements on the dev side since we previously revealed it.